PREVIEW - Mt. San Antonio vs. Butte

This Saturday at Lebard Stadium in Costa Mesa, Orange Coast College will host the 2008 California State Championship game between the Northern California Champion Butte Roadrunners, and the Southern California Champion Mount San Antonio Mounties. Kickoff is at 5:00pm.

Both teams are two of the highest profile and most successful programs in the nation, and this game promises to be yet another exciting finish to a great year of juco football.

Both teams also have a chance to garner a JC Grid-Wire National title, as there were no unbeaten teams in the NJCAA this season. Mount SAC returns to the Title game for the second year in a row, while Butte has yet to be in the big game.

Butte comes into the game with the highest rated QB in the state in the efficiency category, Ryan Ratekin. He finished the regular season with an outstanding 187.1 rating. Because the Roadrunners had a very good running game this season, Ratekin did not put up big numbers, but when he has to throw, he has a very good arm and a corp of good receivers to throw to. If he gets injured, he is backed up by Jordan Rodgers. If the name sounds familiar, yes, he is the little brother of former Butte QB Aaron Rodgers, who has taken over the reins for the Green Bay Packers.

Receiver Josh Bellamy (6-1, 200), had 9 TDs and averaged over 19 yards a catch on his way to a 1st team All-NorCal selection. He had 705 yards on 37 catches during the regular season. He has many PAC-10 teams clamoring for his services. But SAC cannot afford to key on him, as Justin Hilton is also a deep threat, has scored 7 times, and also has an outstanding 18.7 yards per reception average. Just when you think you have these two covered, All-Conference TE Matt Carter (6’4 235) can beat a linebacker with his good speed and hands. He too can get open deep as he had a14.7 yards per reception average, which is pretty high for a tight end. He was very instrumental in the Roadrunner success against Reedley in the NorCal final.

The Roadrunners showed tremendous balance on offense with a solid running game led by 6-2, 220 pound bruiser Alex Green. Green averaged over 100 yards a game and had 14 TDs. He has 4.55 forty speed, but gains most of his yards through toughness. Anthony Conner is also a reliable back who scored 6 times himself and brings a little more quickness into the mix. The offensive line is led by All-Conference Players Danny Watkins (6-5, 295) and Mychal Gann (6-2, 295). Watkins will be playing for Baylor next year. But perhaps the most intimidating looking OL in the whole state is behemoth Etuale Feo who stands 6-5 and weighs in at 385 pounds. Lest you think that Feo is just big, think again. He is athletic enough to play any position on the line, and is shifted around depending on where the opposing defenses strengths lie.

The defense is led by 6-0, 220 All-Conference LB Tyree Dickson. Dickson is one of the hardest hitters I have had the pleasure to see this season. You will hear some cracks this Saturday when he and Mountie runners collide. Also an All Conference linebacker is Jon Bon Watts (6-3, 230), who has PAC-10 and SEC teams interested. The defensive line is led by sack master Brandon Rankin (6-4, 250), who was the NorCal Defensive MVP and had a whopping 21 sacks while leading the conference in overall tackles.  DLs Alfonso Simmons (6-1, 255) and Carlos Guglielmi (6-0, 295) were also All-Conference players which makes for a very solid front seven. Guglielmi has several PAC-10 teams interested in him. The defensive unit amassed an astounding 46 total sacks in the regular season. The Mt. SAC offensive line will have their work cut out for them. The defensive backfield features cover man Anthony Connor, an All-Conference selection, and freshman AJ Hills, who fills the gaps well against the run. Connor had 6 picks to lead the Roadrunners. Preston Pace is committed to Louisville, but I think may have been fighting injuries this season.

The kicking game is pretty solid for the Roadrunners. Augie Heath is very reliable inside the 40 yard line, ending the regular season 8 for 11. Heath does double duty and has a solid 36.5 yards per punt average.

Mount SAC enters their second Championship game in a row, and this time the Mounties are extremely hungry after narrowly losing to perennial power CCSF last season. Freshman QB Nick Lamaison has been one of the most outstanding QBs this year. He is second only to Ratekin in passing efficiency with an outstanding 173 rating. He led all QBs in the State in completion percentage completing 2/3s of his passes. That is very impressive considering the conference he is in, and the fact that he averaged over 30 passes a game. He threw for close to 3,000 yards with 31 TDs and was the conference MVP. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he may still be recovering from an injury sustained in the Fullerton game that kept him out of the SoCal final. The other good news is, even if he isn’t fully recovered, they don’t lose too much with backup freshman Tyler Vanderzee, who did an outstanding job against a sack happy COC team in the SoCal final. Vanderzee managed the game very well, and his 6-6 height makes him see the field very well. Considering he threw 7 passes all year going into that game, it only makes his performance even more remarkable. The SAC O-line did a tremendous job last week protecting Vanderzee, but once again they will be tested by a defense that has by far gotten to the QB more than any other team this season.

The Mounties also have a solid receiving duo in Jesse Canada (57 receptions) and Matt Austin (50 receptions). They made some key catches in last weeks game against COC, and both are matchup problems for corners with their height of 6-4 and 6-2. All Conference RB Burton Iosefa is a very difficult runner to bring down. He fought for many extra yards against the Cougars that kept drives alive. Issac Garcia is a runner out of the same mold, low to the ground and powerful. Together they averaged about 100 yards a game and 5 yards a carry. More than enough fire power to keep defenses from stunting Lamaison too often.

The SAC offensive line is big as usual. They overpowered a quick and talented COC defensive line last week, which is no easy task. Laman Toiaivao (6-4, 290) leads the way as a first team All-Conference selection. Eddie Williams (6-1, 320) is also a stud up front. He will play for UCLA next season.

The Mounties have their usual hard hitting defense. I was a little surprised that they gave up so many yards to Fred Winborn in the SoCal championship game. Fred broke loose for 275 yards, but before Runner fans lick their chops, Fred is easily one of the top running backs in the nation. If the Mounties cannot shut down Butte’s rushing attack, it’s going to be another offensive shootout for the title. All Conference 1st teamers DE Justin Hunt (6-1, 240) and DT Vincent Federico lead the charge on the line, along with Hebron Fangupo (6-2, 315). Fangupo is the highest rated DL in the JC ranks and will be playing for USC next year. The Trojans recruit few JC transfers, so that is a testament to his ability. OLB John McDowell (6-1, 205) is a little light for a Linebacker, but his speed and nose for the ball made him a first team selection also. ILB Alfred Rowe (6-1, 215) is a little on the light side too, but his toughness garnered him a 2nd team selection.

The defensive backfield is led by 1st team All-Conference selection Dominique Gaise. Gaise did an outstanding job against the best receiver in the country, Hayo Carpenter last week. He also can bring it when tackling. Speaking of players that can bring it, 1st team safety Manoa Latu can stuff a run too, and he led the team with 5 interceptions.

The kicking game will always go to Mt. SAC because they have the best kicker/punter in the nation, and the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Butte return men will not get much of a chance to impact the game because Jason Harfman can kick them through the endzone, or kick them so high to the 10 yard line that the kickoff team is on them before they take three steps. Harfman led the state in field goals making 17 out of 20, and he has the capability of knocking down 60+ yard field goals. Just when you are amazed at his kicking prowess, you will be similarly amazed at his punting ability. He averaged over 40 yards a punt, but he’s not just a big foot. He is also very adept at knocking them down inside the 20. Whoever gets him on the next level will be giving one scholarship for two positions.

Breakdown of game
                                                    Mt SAC                                    Butte

Points per game                           45.3                                           38.1

Points against per game               19.7                                           18.7

Total offense yds per game          428.8                                         398.3

Total defense yds per game         336.3                                         247

These two teams are remarkably similar. Both have great QBs, hard runners, and talented receivers. Both defenses have been stingy, but both have shown they can break down against talented offenses. Butte led the north in defense, and SAC was no slouch on that side of the ball either. Both also have outstanding coaching staffs.  The game result may very well depend on how each team’s ground game goes. Once again penalties, turnovers, and special teams play will be key ingredients to success. SAC has a distinct advantage in the kicking game which also could be crucial. Halftime adjustments will be crucial.

This game should be an offensive shootout despite the solid defenses. I would not be surprised if over 75 points are scored. It should go down as yet another classic final in the California JC annals.

Note: Game time is at 5:00. For those of you making the 500 mile plus trip on game day, I would suggest leaving as early as possible because you never know what kind of traffic you are going to run into in L.A. and Orange County.

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